We received this picture of Ben the Jack Russell and Ceilidh the Border Collie a few weeks back. I am so incredibly proud of the hard work their owners have put in to make such a complete turn around with their dogs! I wanted to share their story as a testament to the possibilities of behaviour modification, and how it can change a dog's quality of life, and as a motivation to everybody out there who are currently struggling with their dog's behaviour problems.
Both of the dogs came from rough backgrounds which had left them obviously scarred. Ben is one of the most fearful dogs we have met, and was incredibly scared of pretty much anything outside (bikes, people, dogs... the list goes on), and would respond defensively by lashing out and attempting to bite. To keep everyone safe, he was always walked with a muzzle and his little yellow coat asking for space. His tail was tucked and he was always on alert for possible dangers. However, his sister Ceilidh was even more insecure and nervous than Ben, and around her he had found a way to exercise some kind of control over his situation, and feel just slightly more confident. He would guard toys and food from her, and would at times fly across the room and attack her if he just saw her getting a treat. I have to admit I was even surprised when I saw the picture of the dogs eating side by side.
The most beautiful thing is, that we never directly addressed the resource guarding, and we never did a session on how to work on the problem. The list of Ben's fears was so long, the focus was on other areas. However, by working on improving the whole dog, in all areas of their lives, this problem was alleviated to the point that it almost disappeared. The resource guarding was just a behavioural expression, or symptom, of an underlying emotion. By making the dogs feel calmer, safer, and more relaxed, by building their trust in the owner, and building the dogs' own confidence, the emotional cause which had caused the behaviours was no longer there. It is so important to never look at a dog's behaviour as isolated events, and try to tackle them head on. This often gives the impression of a temporary improvement, if any at all, as the dog's behaviour is a bit more manageable, but sooner or later the pressure of the underlying stress will increase again, and the problems will reappear. By instead removing that stress from the dog's life, and teaching the dog how to better cope with stress through emotional self-regulation you can ensure long lasting results. However, the process to get there can be long and requires hard work and unwithering commitment by the owners. Needless to say, I am so honoured to be part of Ben and Ceilidh's journey, and to get to work with their fantastic owners. It is just moving to see how far these two dogs have come since the first time I met them, and to have witness the effort the owners put in to get there. Let them be an inspiration to all of you who are struggling with your dogs, progress can be made.